What supports are available to those struggling to pay their energy bills?
If you're struggling to pay your energy bills, rest assured you're not alone. There is plenty of support available.
Even in so-called normal times, people can encounter difficulties paying their energy bills. But with gas and electricity prices at record highs, more people than usual might be struggling.
In this guide, we take a look at the supports and services that are available to help people.
In recent years the energy regulator the Commission for Regulation of Utilities (CRU) has placed a temporary ban or moratorium on energy disconnections during the winter months.
For the 2023/24 winter this ban will run from 1st December 2023 until 31st January 2024.
As the name suggests, during this period a household cannot have their gas or electricity supply disconnected for whatever reason.
Despite this, we would still encourage anyone who is struggling to pay their energy bills to seek assistance and not shore up problems for when the ban comes to an end. And this is what the rest of this guide aims to help you with.
Social Welfare supports
The Department of Social Protection pays out a number of supports to help people pay their energy bills.
Free electricity allowance or the natural gas allowance
The main support falls under the Household Benefits Package (HBP).
Those eligible can receive either the electricity allowance or the natural gas allowance. Both payments are €35 per month, which is paid directly into your bank account.
The HBP isn't means tested but in order to get it you must be aged 70 or over. However, if you’re under 70 years of age you may still qualify if you are getting a qualifying social welfare payment.
Winter fuel allowance
Another key support available for people is the winter fuel allowance. This is a means-tested payment that comes under the National Fuel Scheme and those who qualify receive a weekly payment of €33.
The winter fuel allowance season usually starts around September and lasts for 28 weeks. To find out more and whether you’re entitled to the payment see our guide here for more info.
Additional needs payment
You may also be entitled to a once-off Additional Needs Payment (ANP) for help with paying your bills, such as gas and electricity.
This is a single payment to help with an essential, one-off cost that you cannot pay out of your income and is part of the Supplementary Welfare Allowance Scheme. It is also a means-tested payment.
Chat to your supplier
Energy suppliers offer a range of supports to help customers who are having trouble paying their bills.
The last thing a supplier wants to do is disconnect a household and this is only ever carried out as a last resort.
In addition, the CRU requires suppliers to:
- Have trained staff in place to help customers in difficulty
- Help customers who are in genuine financial difficulty
- Offer customers an alternative payment plan, especially if they're in arrears or have built up debt. These plans must allow you a minimum of 24 months to repay your debt
- Offer customers on a financial hardship meter the cheapest tariff available
- Adhere to the Energy Engage Code, a voluntary code of practice designed to protect customers from disconnection. The code’s aim is to encourage customers to engage with their supplier regarding the management of their debt. Suppliers who have signed up to the code must commit to never disconnecting a customer who is actively engaging with their supplier to find a solution to their unpaid bills
Some suppliers such as Electric Ireland have also set up hardship funds or have chosen to forgo some of their profits to provide financial support to those who are struggling.
In short, if you’re at risk of disconnection, or if you feel your energy costs are becoming a problem, the most important thing is to engage with your supplier as soon as possible. This way you can find a solution that works for both of you.
You can find the contact information for all the energy suppliers in Ireland here.
Money Advice and Budgeting Service (MABS)
The Money Advice and Budgeting Service, or MABS, is an independent service that’s free for all members of the public to use, and is especially helpful if you’re having trouble with your energy bills. So, if you feel your debts are in danger of becoming a problem, it can help.
All you have to do is call its helpline on 0818 07 2000 Monday to Friday from 9am to 8pm for money and budgeting advice, or see its website for more info.
Saint Vincent De Paul
If you haven’t already reached out to your supplier to set up a payment plan, it may also be worthwhile contacting the Society of St. Vincent De Paul (SVP). The charity is a great resource for helping people who are struggling with their energy costs to come up with a workable plan.
SVP also works closely with all energy suppliers, as well as MABS, on a daily basis to help struggling families pay their energy bills, so reach out to see how they can help.
The Government's energy credit
In the 2023 Budget, the Government announced that a €600 energy credit would be credited to all households’ electricity accounts.
This credit will be divided into three instalments of €200. The first two instalments of the credit were made in November 2022 and January 2023, while the final instalment was made in March.
As the credit is not means-tested, all households nationwide will receive it. Those who are looking to donate some or all of their credit can do so under the "Share the Warmth" charity initiative. The donated credit will be given to the charity St Vincent de Paul to help support families who will be struggling to keep their homes heated and their lights on during the winter.
A similar credit may be paid this winter.
You can learn more about the Government’s electricity credit here.
Switch your energy supplier
It may not be possible for everyone, but one of the best ways to make sure you’re not overpaying for your gas and electricity is to switch energy suppliers annually.
By switching supplier, you can avail of the new customer discounts that are available. These discounts can range between 10% and 30% usually, and can help you save hundreds on your bills.
However, once your first year is finished, your discount will end and you’ll be moved on to the supplier's more expensive standard rates. Before this happens, you should look at switching supplier again to avail of the best energy prices on the market.
The easiest way to do this is by running a comparison and then switching on bonkers.ie by using our energy comparison service here.
For more information on the comparison and switching process, make sure you take a look at our guide on how to get cheaper energy bills.
More savings tips
If you’re looking for more saving tips, check out our other helpful articles:
- Here's a list of 16 easy ways to reduce your electricity consumption and save money.
- Learn how you can heat your home for less with these tips.
- Discover how you can save on a variety of household bills in this article.
Need any help?
If you have any questions about the supports outlined in this guide, don’t hesitate to contact us.